Colin Hannaford, Director IDM comment on The Arab Cocoon

Dear Doctor Heggy, I greatly enjoyed meeting you in KCL last week. I found your book deeply interesting and informative and have made some comments that I hope you may find useful. They are attached. I remain, thankfully and in great admiration, Colin Hannaford.

Dear Dr Heggy,

I have now read your book more carefully. Allow me first to thank and congratulate you. It is the most complete analysis of the difficulties of reconciling the Arab and Western cultures that I have ever read.

Fearing that you might be offended, and also after only a very rapid reading of your book, I had previously hesitated to offer any insights of my own. Now, having learnt from you the delightful observation of Omar ibn al Khattab, "Blessed is he who shows us our defects", I hope that you may be more ready at least to examine them. I will give them in an abbreviated form. I am ready to enlarge on them – or argue my corner – whenever you may wish.

It seems to me that the first and most glaring defect in your account is that you are observing, thinking, and writing as a Westerner, and not a Muslim. The result is that you are failing to enlist the most powerful influence on the Muslim mind, which is the desire to submit to the will and purpose of God.

You are profoundly right to point to the obsessive emphasis on the past revelations of both Western and Arab religions, and also to observe that this is largely to the benefit – but only in the decreasingly short term – of entrenched religious and political hierarchies. You also observe that there is a vast voiceless reservoir of dissatisfaction amongst young Muslims, for whom the ‘eternal verities’ of past generations are no longer as obvious or significant as they were once.

These comments are also true in the West.

I suggest that the way to release all this dammed-up energy fruitfully is to use a description of reality that modern young people have grown accustomed to in a very different field of inquiry. This is evolution.

If God is omnipresent, benevolent and all-powerful, respect for His power must be most seriously diminished if it is supposed that He does not continually influence the entire human race. If so, it is surely to be expected that the emotional, intellectual and spiritual range of humankind is also being prompted to increase continually. The result should be a process very like evolution.

Amongst my Jewish friends, I find that some still retain a lively expectation of a messiah who will bring unity and peace to the world. The same is true of many Christians expecting the appearance of their saviour. Many Muslims pin their hopes on a mahdi with very similar powers.

All these hopes can be accepted as perfectly valid and serious, as long as they are understood to presage the appearance – not of a single person, distinct in religion and in race – but of an emergent generation of saviours, of messiahs, of mahdis; and by a process of evolution.

Here, we should say to new generations, is the sign of an omnipresent, benevolent and all-powerful Guide of all humankind. You are the product, everywhere, of an emotional, intellectual and spiritual evolution. Learn to recognise and submit to this will and purpose.

Your next (but less serious) defect is that you think as a manager. Of course, you will expostulate: what else? I was the CEO of Shell!

The fact appears in your repeated insistence of the need for strategies and plans and training: and quality control, and management!

One manages a company in order to produce a product as efficiently and economically. What is the product to be produced through this far more complicated social process?

"Progress values!" you will reply. Your enumeration of them is masterly.

I agree with your description of them; and that they are essential; also that they must be the aim. But these values are not going to be produced – as you say yourself – without the previous creation of a strategy, a plan, the necessary training etc, etc – and this with the agreement, before, during and after every stage, of a vast collection of actors famously incapable of agreement.

No wonder you are pessimistic. This will not work. Producing values is not an industrial process. It cannot be treated as an industrial process. The irrational component of human thinking is part of the essence of our existence: ignoring it is more than a political and economic mistake; it amounts to ignoring human nature, of ignoring the meaning of being human, even of the human vocation. You say this yourself: "The failure to recognise that humanity is higher and more sublime than any civilisation, can only lead to racism and fanaticism."

Where, then, can these essential values be inculcated, using what is available now; and, further, in a way that the regnant social hierarchies see is to their advantage?

Very much like you, when I first began to look for a way out of the morass of stagnant thinking, flawed morality and fractured logic in which my pupils would soon be trapped, I also looked for a solution that would not "polarize society", one that is "non-ideological and, as such, lends itself to an objective and neutral debate that need not descend into the usual pattern of dogmatic intransigence."

You found your answer through examining the values which allowed you successfully to manage a huge multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporation. I also found mine, just as fortuitously, I think, in a far more humble mathematics classroom: humble, but exactly like a hundred thousand others around the world.

As my book explains, mathematics lessons can perfectly inculcate all the progress values that you describe. These lessons are capable of giving children years of experience in teamwork, succinctly expressing their thinking, sharing standards, of critical, constructive and receptive discourse, accepting a plurality of opinions – all with the expectation of becoming part of a modern, humane and balanced society.

Through this entirely practical process of improving education – necessary, valued and economically ‘doable’ – a happier future can be achieved for all children.

As I also explain in ‘473959’, although all German schools are now following the path I proposed over ten years ago in a study for the EU Education Commission first published in Germany, mathematics education in most other Western countries still needs to lifted out of the rut in which ‘the teacher only transmits and the pupils only receive’. As you will find, I believe this archaic, essentially self-defeating practise was a major factor in the rise to power of Hitler and Stalin. Teaching children unquestioningly to obey authority is the first step to the labour camps.

May I finally and most respectfully suggest that describing the capacity of mathematics lessons to achieve progress values in any cultures – a fact still not widely recognized in the West – will show your argument to be far more even-handed.

Thank you again for your courage.


Colin Hannaford.

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